For many people, summertime means not only fun in the sun, but fun in the water – at the pool, lake, beach or water park.
But a bad case of swimmer’s ear can put a real damper on summer fun.
Causes of Swimmer’s Ear
Swimmer’s ear is the common name for otitis externa, which is an inflammation of the ear canal caused by dampness in the canal that ultimately leads to irritation and chafing. While the condition often occurs in children and young adults who swim frequently, it’s not unique to swimmers. Any excess moisture in the ear canal—even from routine showering—can cause inflammation.
What’s more, the skin inside the ear canal can become chafed, dry, and itchy. Any break in the skin from scratching the irritated area can leave the area open to bacteria, which can lead to infection. One common cause of swimmer’s ear is swimming in dirty or polluted water. An inflamed ear canal is a perfect home for bacteria in polluted water.
Excessive moisture is a common cause of swimmer’s ear, but not the only one. Other skin conditions like seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis can also be culprits. Improper and/or excessive removal of wax from the ears can leave them susceptible to inflammation. Removing too much wax reduces the protective barrier ear wax provides, and removing wax with the wrong tools, like fingernails or metal objects, can scratch the surface of the ear canal and leave it susceptible to infection.
Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear
Typical symptoms related to a swimmer’s ear include:
- Itching inside the ear
- Watery or foul-smelling yellowish discharge from the ear
- Severe pain and tenderness, especially with head movement or if the earlobe is tugged
- Muffled hearing (due to blockage of the ear canal)
Treatment of Swimmer’s Ear
Swimmer’s ear will usually require a visit to the doctor, where a gentle cleaning may be performed to relieve some of the irritation. After that, the doctor will likely prescribe ear drops to use at home. If there is a great deal of blockage, a “wick” may be inserted — a very narrow piece of dehydrated sponge — to reach past the blocked area. When drops are applied to the wick, it allows the medication to pass through the blocked area to the inner part of the ear canal. With this treatment, relief usually occurs within six to eight hours.
For more severe cases, oral antibiotics and/or pain medication may be prescribed.
Swimmer’s ear is not a serious condition and is very treatable. If left untreated, though, it can become extremely painful, and lead to more serious infection. If you suspect you’re suffering from a case of swimmer’s ear, it’s always a good idea to see your doctor.
Emergi-Care is a fully licensed, freestanding emergency care clinic in Houston, Texas, providing the Clear Lake and NASA area community with a convenient alternative to overcrowded hospitals. Learn more at www.emergicare.net.